Fighting with computers

Computers are not always friendly.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lots of changes at once and one OpenSCAD bump

In order to get my new 4k display connected to my Linux box at work I had to replace the graphics card (actually I was replacing none but the motherboard's one). For the 3840x2160 resolution I selected a cheap ATI board that apparently had decent Linux support, the $100 board RX460.

First problem was my computer did show nothing on the new screen, that was fixed connecting the old one and using the BIOS to switch default video to the new card. Then Ubuntu 14.04 would boot but failed to recognize the new card, which makes sense as the driver was not install. However I would get graphics working using the software rendered (frame buffer). When looking for the Linux drivers I realized I would need to upgrade to Ubuntu 16.04, something I wanted to do for a while but kept leaving for a rainy day.

One colleague at work mentioned to me he have had quite a good experiencing upgrading a couple of systems from 14.04 to 16.04 so I was set to do it then, now that it was supposed to be easy. My experience was not as good as his, as installation complained about unsupported packages and eventually died off stating the upgrade would leave my system into an unstable state so it was cancelled.

However, after booting the system again I realized it was actually running the new version regardless of what it said before (maybe the going back to 14.04 failed too?). However I could no longer succeed with the graphical login, that would fail on me everytime. But text terminals would work ok, so I downloaded the ATI driver for my board and installed it. Next reboot I was back in business with the graphical login and now I could see the graphical interface moved smoothly and efficiently as hardware acceleration was working. I went to the graphics setup to set the scale of menu and title bars to a slighly larger size so I can read them more easily (after all, going to a larger display was done in part to view more and better the screen).

I had a couple of hickups with some leftovers of the 14.04, but eventually managed to remove the old packages and install the new ones. And it all seemed to work ok now. However I realized the OpenSCAD program cause a segmentation fault everytime I tried to start in in GUI mode. Command line operation was working though. So I assumed there was some problem maybe with my current graphics configuration. Unfortunately I was not able to find any complains of a similar problem on the web and removing an reinstalling the package did not cure it either. So I went ahead and installed a newer, nightly build, instead of the stable version and that is working flawlessly with my new hardware. I guess the cause of the fault is gone with one of the changes from the last version.

What is best is the most of the tools I have installed the last three years are already installed and printers, accounts and digital certificates do not need to be setup again. It was not an easy upgrade but it was painless than a new install and longish migration of data to the new system.

After figuring out how to send the audio through the Display Port cable, I realized the audio feature is not the most remarkable one of this 32" display by Benq, so I am keeping my old speakers that deliver richer sound.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Wifi watching

Like train spotting, bird watching, I guess that wifi watching could become a thing, or so could be if you use this nice app for your Android phone. I avoid the term wardriving because it assumes you drive a vehicle and it has a dubious or evil aim (or may be that is only my interpretation).

I was touched by the work of these artists that visited and gave a talk at our campus a year ago. So I just went out for running an errand and grabbed nearly 900 different SSIDs around the block.

The Wifi Collector app will grab both access point information plus geographical location using the phone location services. Data can later be exported as a CSV file or KML file to be used with Google Earth as the image here shows.

While I did not uncover any political message or funny stuff on the SSIDs names on the surroundings, I guess it can be another way of catching and reviewing your walks (runs?) around the city.  I will use this app more than once just for a new way of perceiving the city that was not possible before.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Spark on a Printrbot Simple Metal

One dry winter day I noticed a spark jumped from my finger when toughing the metal plate of a Printrbot Simple metal printer. Next time I tried to use that printer the hot-end would ram into the print bed so I had to stop the printer immediately. I remembered the spark incident and I assumed damage was done due to that static discharge.

On to find a solution. Printrbot forums showed several entries about damaged sensors and how to replace them. Others had to replace both the inductive proximity sensor plus the Printrboad control electronics too. But one thing I noticed is that my inductive sensor was apparently working, as the LED will lit when approaching a metal part to it. After testing with M119 command, I realized that as odd as it might seem, now my printer thought the signal on Z-MIN end-stop was reversed. So it was triggered when the LED was off and open when the LED was lit. That was pretty odd but as the sensor seemed to be working I set my path to modify the firmware configuration.

Once I found a suitable source code of the firmware I just changed the polarity of the ZMIN input signal and my printer was able to print again. I could not really explain why that was happening but somehow it was working so it had to be a reason for that. Anyway, the joy was short-lived and two days later the hot-end will ram into the bed at the beginning of a printing, again!

Testing the sensor again shown LED was still working as expected, but this time the M119 command will always show the sensor as opened no matter the status of the LED. After taking out the sensor output signal I would not measure any voltage change on it when detecting metal. And the ZMIN input pin was now stuck to ground so it could not longer be used as an input.

My guess is that the electrostatic damage would eventually caused the pin structure to go through a transient period of inverted polarity but eventually that pin would end up stuck to ground. And that latter phase most likely killed the sensor output driver so sensor was now busted.

Repairing all that would require a new sensor and setting the firmware to use a new input pin (or replacing the printrboard entirely).

I bought a new inductive sensor on eBay and replaced it but this time I tried if the sensor would work powered at 5V instead of the 12V it was using before, which it did. This way the sensor output could be attached directly to any free input pin of the processor. I chose PE5 signal available in ETX1 connector as the new input for ZMIN in the firmware and after uploading the new version the printer is up and running again.

I would need to be more careful in the future touching ground before touching the printer :-)